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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK
Quebec separatists suffer poll blow
Quebec demonstration for unification with Canada
Renewed calls for separatism have not swayed voters
By the BBC's Mike Fox in Montreal

The governing party in Quebec has suffered an embarrassing setback in its ambitions to gain independence from the rest of Canada.

With nearly all votes counted in four by-elections, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) has lost control of two seats, including one that was held by former premier Lucien Bouchard.

The opposition Liberals have demanded a recount in a seat which the PQ won by 54 votes, while the PQ held on to a fourth seat where their candidate was a local tennis star.

Lucien Bouchard
Lucien Bouchard lost his seat in separatist heartland

The PQ still has a working majority in the Quebec's National Assembly.

The constituency once held by Lucien Bouchard is in the heartland of the separatist movement and at one time a defeat for the PQ there was unimaginable.

But an effective campaign by the Liberals played on growing dissatisfaction with the governing party.

Voters are unhappy with the way the PQ is running the province, not least with the closure of a hospital and the reorganisation of local government.

To add to their problems, Quebeckers generally do not approve of the emphasis the PQ is putting on separating from the rest of Canada.

The defeats are especially embarrassing for current leader Bernard Landry.

Controversial language

At the start of the campaign he said it was important to win all four seats to give a boost to the party's campaign to win independence from Canada.

He will now be forced to re-assess whether he can call another referendum on separation and his chances at the next Quebec-wide election look less than rosy.

Since coming to power, he has used strong and occasionally controversial language in his efforts to promote Quebec's need for independence to protect its French language and culture.

His efforts to drum up support for separating have not swayed many voters.

Most want to avoid another divisive campaign like the 1995 referendum, where the separatists lost by only a few thousand votes.

These results make another vote on independence even less likely.

See also:

15 Feb 01 | Americas
Flag day splits Canada
24 Jan 01 | Americas
Maple leaf 'rag' remark sparks row
11 Jan 01 | Americas
Quebec separatist premier quits
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